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Sword & Shield

Sword & Shield

The Student News Site of Vel Phillips Memorial

Challenging Start to MMSD School Year with Bus Mishaps

Challenging+Start+to+MMSD+School+Year+with+Bus+Mishaps

Newly starting for the 2023-2024 school year, MMSD partnered with the First Student bus company through a three-year and $81.3 million dollar contract. According to a statement issued by the First Student announcing this partnership, First Student’s buses have GPS tracking of buses that allow travel time predictions of buses. Additionally, First Student claims to have over 100 years of experience and provides service to twenty school districts operating from ten different Wisconsin locations. 

Coming along with this change in company, several systematic changes have been made to bus routes, along with several issues in the first days of school. This year, MMSD switched to a two-tier transportation system, which increased the bus routes by 30%, including new routes and buses. Such changes are overall positive for the district, except that, similar to many places across the country, First Student is facing staffing shortages, and therefore the expanded routes are difficult to fill on-time. Resultantly, buses have been anywhere from 20 minutes late, such as those picking up students to Sennett Middle School, to not even showing up at all. Also, with new routes, some parents reported students being dropped off at the wrong stop, made difficult by the fact that such young kids don’t yet have cell phones to contact their guardians. 

In one specific instance, according to Vanessa Alexander, a grandmother interviewed by Channel 3000 News, her grandson was left on the bus for over three hours before he finally arrived back at the correct stop. Alexander said that she waited for thirty minutes past the intended drop off time until finally doing something, trying to call the school and First Student, and eventually going to the bus barn in order to find the child. Similar to other cases, Alexander stated that “no one there could actually talk to me or tell me anything.” Eventually, the bus pulled up, with Alexander’s sleeping grandson in the back, and when she asked about a protocol for sleeping kids, the driver said that there wasn’t one, and that getting up and checking was “not what we do.” While First Student did respond to News 3 for Channel 3000 saying that buses have an electronic reminder system, some of these issues have continued to persist. 

Such issues have extended past academic school events as well, as on Saturday, September 9, Memorial’s own cross country boys team waited over an hour for their bus to arrive. Intending to depart for an invitational meet at Grant Park in South Milwaukee at 7:00 a.m. the bus failed to arrive for close to an hour-and-a-half, despite frequent calls by the head coach to First Student. As a result, the team switched meets to an invitational at the local Monona Grove, running untimed and unscored due to the last-minute nature of the change. While few of these issues have occurred since with sports teams, the risk of a late bus is significant, especially with some teams traveling as far as Wausau to compete in games, meets, or matches. 

While, as was stated in an email by Jen Biddinger, the First Student Communications Manager, “about 90% of MMSD bus routes continue to run on time,” the size of the district means an average 10 out of 130 routes are still delayed, representing a large number of students. First Student is attempting to remedy this by offering drivers $24 per hour wages in addition to a $3000 signing bonus, and have said that they have had sixteen new drivers being trained as well as ten drivers starting work over the as of September 15. While mishaps with drop off, pickup, and general bus routes have decreased as the school year progresses, parents, students, and MMSD as a whole are hoping that an increase in drivers will remedy these issues.

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Jonathan Buscher, Editor in Chief, Webmaster
Jonathan Buscher is a senior and enjoys finding interesting and relevant news stories, both local and global, and crafting a story while writing his articles. Outside of Sword and Shield, he loves to run cross country and track, read, and generally spends time outdoors. He hopes to help provide a well organized and accessible website containing a wide range of articles and features.
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